Wednesday 29 May 2013

Review ~ The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas

The Flower Reader
Preface June 2012

Rinette Leslie has the gift of floramancy, and it is this ability to interpret the language of flowers and predict the future which form the basis of this cleverly constructed historical novel which is set in Scotland during the tumultuous first years of the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.
When the dying queen regent, Mary of Guise entrusts the mysterious contents of an elaborate silver casket into Rinette's safe keeping, it throws open up a whole maze of conspiracies and lets loose a series of events which not only endanger Rinette and all those she loves, but also threatens the very monarchy.
A little slow at the start but once the story gets underway it really captures your attention and becomes a riveting look at monarchy, conspiracy and the unrelenting danger that comes from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The clever interweaving of historical figures alongside fictional characters really make this an interesting and colourful look at Scottish monarchy.

I enjoyed it.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Author Spotlight ~ Jasper Barry

I am delighted to introduce 



The Second Footman...
Matador (1 Feb 2013)

Jasper ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for sharing your thoughts about the writing of your debut book - The Second Footman.

Where did you get the inspiration for The Second Footman?

I love the complexity of the nineteenth-century novel and the way its characters can't escape the demands of a society that has rigid rules about class, money, morality and etiquette. There's usually a frustrated love affair and an element of mystery too. It's a long, highly textured, satisfying read. So I decided to write one, but with a contemporary twist.

The central love affair is between two men - Max, who at nineteen already has a chequered past and is keen to better his current lot as the duchesse de Claireville's second footman, and Armand, marquis de Miremont, who is struggling in middle-age to accept his newly awakened sexuality. This adds a further dimension to the challenge presented by strict social codes. To be true to their inclinations, Max and Armand must live their 'real' life within society, yet outside it.
I've also always been fascinated by the power-dynamics in relationships. In a conventional nineteenth-century novel where the love affair is between an upper-class man and a younger woman of lower social standing, the man, by virtue of his age, rank, wealth and gender, traditionally has the power (think Mr. Rochester) - will he marry her or won't he? But with Max and Armand, the situation is obviously rather different: as a man, Max doesn't have any 'virtue' to protect and he's not looking for commitment; he certainly hopes to use Armand to improve his social status, but by entirely different means. And, if it doesn't work out, well, youth is on his side, he can always leave. Max has the power. Or so he thinks.

What is it about your book that will pique the reader’s interest?

There's the mystery surrounding Max. Exactly what happened to him before he ended up in the orphan's dormitorium of a Normandy monastery? Who is The Other? And what is the fraud Max hopes to commit? But I hope the reader will be intrigued by both the two main characters. In another deviation from my nineteenth-century template, I don't do 'good' or 'bad' characters, because we're all more complex than that. So central to the novel is the idea that, unless you're a psychopath, it's actually just as difficult to be consistently ruthless as it is to be consistently virtuous.
I also hope the reader will be drawn in by 1880s' France. I set the novel in France rather than England because, while homosexuality was thoroughly disapproved of by French society, it was not a criminal offence in private between consenting adults (I wanted to avoid the threat of an Oscar-Wilde-type martyrdom hanging over my characters as that would have made for a very different novel). And I chose the 1880s because, in a welcome period of peace after a century of conflict, Paris is once again the most glamorous city in Europe and France is enjoying a flowering of creativity in the arts and fashion that will reach full bloom in the Belle Époque of the 1890s.
The novel unpeels various layers of this society. There's the world of Armand de Miremont and Catherine de Claireville: opulent society salons in aristocratic Parisian hôtel particuliers and indolent summer house parties in country châteaux, where the air is thick with back-biting and sexual intrigue. Then there's the world below stairs: the contrasting squalor of the footmen's dormitory, the rivalries, the rigid routine, the hierarchy that mimics the salons' strict order of precedence. There are glimpses of bohemian life when Max visits his best friend, the violinist Zhukovsky, on his Sundays off. And beneath society's well-regulated surface, like a deeper current in a river, there's an alternative society, shadowy but with rules of its own - a gay world that celebrates its existence at Max's other Sunday haunt, The Green Monkey. 

How long did it take you to write The Second Footman

Eight years. I'm a very slow writer and although I believed at the start I knew enough from other projects not to need detailed research, you never know enough - I even had to relearn Latin, so I could translate the Catullus poems that feature in the novel. And then life got in the way too - sick partner, sick me, the illness and death of my mother. The result is that one novel has grown into a trilogy taking the characters through to 1892. I'm working on the second novel now. A bit faster, I hope.

Do you have a special place to do your writing?

A narrow little room like an old-fashioned railway compartment. I sit with my back to a wall of research books, facing a set of framed costume designs by an old friend who's a theatre designer. There is a window, but the view isn't great, so there ought to be no distractions. But of course there's the terrible lure of the internet - ordering washing-machine descaler seems irresistibly exciting when you're stuck for the right word. And then, when I'm motoring at last, I look up and see three pairs of aggrieved eyes - hungry cats, mobbing my computer. If I don't pack up and serve dinner they throw pens, eat post-it notes and chew books until I do.

Are you inspired by any particular era, author or book?

I like the English nineteenth-century novel, particularly Trollope, whose characterisations seem to me psychologically acute. But nowadays I much prefer the French and Russian writers of the period. Beside them, the English novel, where evil is usually punished and good prevails, appears rather safe. Balzac was a revelation to me. The first novel of his I read was Père Goriot: by the end his bourgeois hero Rastignac has seen beneath the glitter of Parisian high society and he climbs a hill where he can look down bitterly on the city and reflect. If this were Dickens, Rastignac would have been taught to know his place and would return to his former existence, where he would find a nice wife and settle down the pleasures of ordinary middle-class life. But he does no such thing. He vows to take Paris society on at its own game. "It's war between us now," he declares. Dangerous. Open-ended. Exciting. You long for the sequel.

And finally a fun question....

If The Second Footman was optioned for a movie, who would you like to play Max and Armand?

Oh dear! You know, I really hate it when I adore a character in a novel and can see him in my mind's eye - and then Hollywood goes and casts some actor who is absolutely nothing like my vision. I do give quite detailed descriptions of Max and Armand, but I'd like readers to be free to do what I do when I'm reading and fill in the gaps with their own imaginations. So forgive me but I'm going to leave the casting up to them.

About the Author

twitter: Jasper Barry @JasperBarry2

My Review of The  Second Footman

Set against the glamorous background of nineteenth century France, and with the capriciousness of the Parisian elite opened up to scrutiny, the story of The Second Footman flutters between the grand salons of the aristocracy, and the squalid intimacy of shared servant accommodation. Nineteen year old Max, is the second footman of Catherine, duchesse de Claireville whose predilection for handsome male servants is widely acknowledged. With no assets other than his charismatic personality, Max devises a plan to help him escape his life of servitude. When he encounters the naive and wealthy Armand de Miremont at the duchesse de Claireville’s summer retreat, Max realises that he has a talent to seduce, and as the first quiver of desire strikes, Armand is powerless to resist.

Whilst The Second Footman it is a substantial read, the plot never falters or loses focus. The writing is good, and the overall professional quality of the story is reminiscent at times of classic nineteenth century literature. I found that I was beguiled by both Max and Armand; their story of burgeoning homosexuality, with the hint of dark secrets, is expertly controlled within the boundaries of nineteenth century class structure. There is no doubt that the beautiful youth on the cover of the book is quite striking; his enigmatic gaze and grave composure captures not just the beauty of the man, but also highlights the captivating pull of the narrative.

This story of classic ambition, combined with the hedonistic arrogance of youth, and the frailty of hidden desire is perfectly presented. I have no hesitation in recommending The Second Footman as a fascinating and captivating read.

I originally reviewed The Second Footman for the Historical Novel Society  in March 2013.

My thanks to Historical Novel Society  for my review copy of this book.

Jasper - thank you so much for giving such insightful answers to our questions. 

Jaffa and I will be following your career with great interest.


Monday 27 May 2013

Review ~ Sword and Scimitar by Simon Scarrow

Untitled Siege of Malta Novel by Simon…
25 April 2013
It is 1565, and Sir Thomas Barrett is haunted by the memories which have forced him into exile, and so with nothing to lose he takes up arms in defence of Malta. Although he is a disgraced Knight of St. John, Barrett is sworn to defend the Christian faith against the might of the vast Ottoman army. What then follows is the story of the Great Siege of Malta and the ensuing battles of both on land and at sea are recounted in great detail. Barrett must seek to restore his own good name, whilst at the same time he must also discover the hidden secrets which seek to threaten the very throne of Elizabeth I.

Overall, the story is a historically accurate version of this troubled period in history. The battles are well explained and often quite brutally depicted, but if I'm honest I found the book to be quite lacklustre and only really persevered with it because I was given the book to review. It’s not that the writing is bad, it’s more that the characters lack any real depth and so I had no emotional involvement in the story, nor did I really care about what happened. The book is also over long and could have been cut back to a more reasonable length which may have gone some way to making the story rather less one dimensional.

My thanks to Real Readers for the opportunity to read and review this book

Friday 24 May 2013

Friday Recommends ~ A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee

A Thousand Pardons
Published 23 May Corsair

In A Thousand Pardons, Jonathan Dee gets into the very heart and soul of marital discord and with great skill he manipulates a story of how two ordinary people cope with devastating matrimonial disharmony.

Ben and Helen Armstead appear to have everything that middle class America can offer and yet all it takes is one afternoon of recklessness and the whole thing falls apart. Ben, a successful lawyer commits professional suicide in an unprecedented act of foolishness, forcing Helen into making some difficult lifestyle decisions. Whilst Ben and Helen stumble around in improbable situations, caught in the middle is their adopted teenage daughter Sara, who is an unpleasant child, but given the emotional upheaval in her life, it's not difficult to imagine why she is so troubled. 

However good the narrative is, and believe me, there are moments of sheer brilliance, there are also times when I had to suspend belief, specifically the implausibility of Helen’s meteoric rise to success in the competitive world of damage limitation, and the inclusion into the story of a debauched Hollywood movie star, whose tenuous link to Helen’s past was rather bizarre. And yet, despite the moral righteousness of the story, I found I empathized more with Ben, whose very personal disintegration was handled with sensitivity and compassion.

Whilst A Thousand Pardons is a very modern story about the breakdown of a marriage, it is also the story of the minutiae of daily life and the seemingly mindless boredom which all too easily invades hopes and dreams.

My thanks to the Lovereading Review Panel for my review copy of A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee

Thursday 23 May 2013

Author Spotlight ~ Jean Fullerton

I am thrilled to have the author

here to talk about her latest book

Published by
The Orion Publishing Group
23 May 2013

What makes you want to write historical fiction?

My life-long love of all things historical started when I was about 5 or 6 and a very young Roger Moore rode on to our 10 inch black and white TV screen as Ivanhoe. This love grew to fruition when I read Katherine by Anna Seton as a teenager. I love all areas of European history and before settling on East London as my place to weave stories I wrote books set in 10th century Wales, 13th century Scotland, during Hereward the Wake’s rebellion in the Fenlands, one set in Boston just before the American War of Independence and in the Caribbean during the ages of piracy.

I’m still an avid historical reader and as long as the story is historically accurate and pulls me in I’m happy to read any period. I’m also very fond of alternative histories i.e. what would have happened if Harold had won the Battle of Hastings?

Do you write stories for yourself, or other people?
I have to write stories I love as I don’t think I would be able to bring the characters and situation to life if I didn't believe in the story but sagas, like all other fiction genre, has its traditions. My books are marketed as sagas so I have to keep in mind my audience when I’m writing. My readers are pretty broad and like plenty of grit but they read to identify with the heroine as she overcomes adversities. They wouldn’t be too impressed if they turned the page and found lots of swearing, explicit sex and violence so I have to keep that in mind as I write.

Where did you get the inspiration for Call Nurse Millie?

Susan Lamb, the Head of Fiction in Orion books asked me to write it. Orion publishes Call the Midwife along with Jennifer Worth’s other three books. Susan thought as I’m a District and Queen’s Nurse and an East Ender I would be the perfect person to write a fictitious account of a District Nurse and Midwife’s life and work in post-war East London.

I was apprehensive at first but my wonderful editorial team were so sure I could bring the duel strands of my background and profession together in Millie’s story I decided to give it a go. I’m so glad I did because I had a wonderful time researching my own profession and creating Millie’s family, friends and patients.

I started Millie’s story on VE day May 1945. As the troops begin to return home we see the inhabitants of London attempt to put their lives back together.

For 25-year-old Millie, a qualified nurse and midwife, the jubilation at the end of the war is short-lived as she tends to the needs of the East End community around her. But while Millie witnesses tragedy and brutality in her job, she also finds strength and kindness. And when misfortune befalls her own family, it is the enduring spirit of the community that shows Millie that even the toughest of circumstances can be overcome.

Through Millie's eyes, we see the harsh realities and unexpected joys in the lives of the patients she treats, as well as the camaraderie that is forged with the fellow nurses that she lives with. Filled with unforgettable characters and moving personal stories, this vividly brings to life the colourful world of post-war East London.

Do you ever base your characters on people you know?

I get asked this question all the time and up until now – except for a former boss who I wrote up as an evil, blond Trollope – I've always said no but in Call Nurse Millie a number of my relatives have crept on stage.

In the first instance my father’s 8th Army experience in North Africa during WW2 was the basis of Millie’s love Alex Nolan’s back story. The funny incidence of the boiled underwear and the purple stew were things that happened to my father when he was part of a gun crew in the desert and Alex’s description of the battle of Monte Casino against the AXIS forced in Italy was in fact just how my father told the story.

Millie’s friend Connie’s story of getting a wedding set up ready for when her finance Charlie returned is in fact exactly what my Aunt Martha did.

But my family member who features most prominently in Millie’s story is my Aunt Nell. From the Co-op divi number, the terrace house in Ilford with china ducks on the wall to the way she dominated the family Millie’s Aunt Ruby is in truth my father’s eldest sister, Aunt Nell.

Do you have a special place to do your writing?

I do. I’m very lucky to have the fourth bedroom as my own office with book shelves full of research material on three walls, a full-size desk with my PC and a printer under the window. I have lots of little quirky historical keepsakes scattered over it like a Braveheart Winnie the Pooh, a glass coaster from the Tower of London and a 1953 Coronation Mug, which holds my editing pens. Unfortunately, I have to share my space with Fudge and Tilly, my two cats who seem to think it’s their recreation room and drape themselves under the computer screen and curl around the keyboard.

Can you tell us what are you writing next?

I’ve just sent the second part of Millie’s story into my publishers so after I’ve done the edits I’ll be starting Millie’s friend and fellow nurse, Connie Byrne’s story at the beginning of May. We shift north a bit for Connie’s story as it is set in and around Spitalfields and Shoreditch again in the immediate post- war period. Then who knows? I have dozens of stories in my head that I’d like to write so that should keep me out of trouble for a good while yet.

And finally for fun....

If you could invite three people from history to your dinner table, who would you choose and why?

I’d have a bit of a girls’ night in and invite:

Mary Magdelane - so I can find out what really happened to the Jesus’s women disciples after the boys took over.

Eleanor of Aquitaine to hear the sort of wisdom only the wife and mother of two kings could have acquired over eighty years.

Florence Nightingale so I can update her on what’s happened in nursing since she shuffled off.

Thanks for such very good questions, Jo, and giving me the chance to tell people about my writing life.

Jaffa and I have loved having you in our author spotlight , we wish you continued success with your writing career.

You can purchase a paperback or ebook copy of Call Nurse Millie most easily from Amazon at

Book details

Publisher: Orion Fiction
Pages: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1409137405

Book Description 

An absorbing and richly detailed novel following the life and work of a young nurse in post-war
East London - perfect for anyone who loved CALL THE MIDWIFE.

Chapter One

Millie Sullivan pushed an escaped curl of auburn hair from her eyes with the back of her hand. She wished she’d put on her cotton petticoat under her navy blue uniform instead of the rayon one.
Although the milk float was only just rolling along the street, it was already sweltering hot.
With a practised hand Millie wrapped the newborn infant in a warm towel. ‘There we go, young lady, say hello to your ma.’
She handed the child to the woman propped up in the bed. Mo Driscoll, already mother to four lively boys, took the baby.
‘Thank you, Sister,’ she said, tucking her daughter into the crook of her arm and gazing down at the baby. ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’
‘She’s an angel,’ Mo’s mother, standing on the other side of the bed, replied. ‘And a welcome change.’ She looked at Millie. ‘I’ll clear up, Sister. You look done in.’
‘I am, but thankfully it’s my last night on call.’ Millie handed a parcel of newspaper containing soiled gauze to the older woman. ‘Could you pop these on the fire?’
‘To be sure.’ She took the packet and threw it in the zinc bucket alongside the dirty linen. ‘That superintendent works you nurses too hard. You should try and put your feet up when you get back.’
Millie smiled.
Chance would be a fine thing. She plopped her instruments into the small gallipot half-filled with Dettol, took off her gloves and glanced at her watch.
Eight-thirty a.m.!
Thank goodness.
She’d be back by the time Miss Summers gave out the day’s work. Also, as Annie Fletcher, the trainee Queen’s Nurse student assigned to Millie, was laid up with tonsillitis, Millie had given a couple of Annie’s morning insulin injection visits to Gladys to do, and she wanted to make sure she’d done them.
‘Do you know what you’re going to call her?’ Millie asked Mo, washing her hands in the bowl balanced on the rickety bedside table.
‘Colleen, after me mum,’ she replied.
Mother and daughter exchanged an affectionate look and Millie glanced at her watch again.
She ought to get on, as she’d promised her own mum that she’d pop home in time for Churchill’s announcement at three p.m.
Her parents, Doris and Arthur, only lived a short bus ride away in Bow but, as Millie had two newborns to check plus a handful of pregnant women to see before she swapped her midwifery bag for her district one for her afternoon visits, it would be a close-run thing.
Millie packed the four small enamel dressing-bowls inside each other, then stowed them in her case between her scissors and the bottle of Dettol. She snapped the clasp shut.
‘I’ll call back tomorrow, but if there’s any problem just ring Munroe House to get the on-call nurse,’ Millie said, squeezing down the side of the bed towards the door.
Like so many others in East London, the Driscolls’ home was just the two downstairs rooms in an old terraced house that Hitler’s bombs had somehow missed.
Colleen took the manila envelope tucked into side of the dressing-table mirror and passed it to Millie.
She opened it and taking out two crumpled ten-shilling notes, popped them into the side pocket of her bag. ‘I’ll write it in when I get back to the clinic.’

©Excerpt by kind permission of the author

About the author

Jean Fullerton is the author of four previous historical novels. She is a qualified District and Queen's nurse who has spent most of her working life in the East End of London, first as a Sister in charge of a team, and then as a District Nurse tutor. She is also a qualified teacher and now lectures on community nursing studies in a London university.She has three grown-up daughters and now lives just outside her native City with her husband, an eight stone Bernese Mountain Dog, called Molly, and two cats.

And you can connect to me on my website at to find out about me, my previousbooks, and my East London heritage along with pictures of the actual East London locations I use in my books.
You can also find me on Facebook as Jean Fullerton and follow me on Twitter as @EastLondonGirly

Review ~ Call Nurse Millie by Jean Fullerton

Published 23 May 2013
The Orion Publishing Group
It’s 1945, and the Second World War is over, but for 25 year old Millie Sullivan, her life as a qualified nurse and midwife in the East End of London is as busy as ever. Together with her nurse colleagues at Munroe House Nurse’s Home, Millie witnesses her share of tragedy and yet her determined spirit sees her though the harsh reality of living through some tough circumstances. The indomitable spirit of the people who inhabit the overcrowded streets and the bomb damaged buildings of the East End, come gloriously alive in this wonderful historical saga.

This is the first of Jean Fullerton’s books I have read, but I am impressed with the way she controls the narrative and allows the characters to develop, so that by the end of the book you really care about what happens to them. Millie in particular is a feisty heroine who encapsulates the spirit of the time in her no nonsense approach and down to earth way of dealing with whatever life throws at her. By using her undoubted skill as qualified nurse, the author has used her medical knowledge to good effect, and has written a story which pulls you in from the very beginning.  The individual stories really tug at your heart strings, and yet beyond the heartbreak and tragedy, there is always hope for a better future.

 Overall, this is a really lovely story, which will appeal to anyone who enjoys post-war social history. I really enjoyed it, and have no hesitation in recommending it to my blog readers.

My thanks to Jean Fullerton and The Orion Publishing Group for my copy of this book.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Author Spotlight ~ Tina Seskis

I am delighted to introduce

photo by kind permission of the author



Published Kirk Parolles; 1 edition (15 April 2013)

Tina, it's a real pleasure to welcome you to Jaffareadstoo, we are delighted that you have visited us to talk about your novel ~ One Step Too Far

Where did you get the inspiration for One Step Too Far?

It came to me out of the blue, when I was on holiday in Venice.  I literally got the idea for the twist and thought, that would make a great book.  When I got home I started writing it down on my laptop.

What was the writing process like, and how long did it take you to write the first draft ?

It was very organic - I had a few vague ideas of what would happen, for example I knew Emily would run away and of course I knew why, but the rest seemed to write itself.  It was a very strange time for me, as my mother was becoming unwell, so I'd send her chapters to try to keep her going, and as I was working during the day I mostly wrote at night, either in front of the telly or propped up in bed.

Did you base any of your characters on people you know?

Hmm, there are certainly aspects of people I knew, especially in the more peripheral characters, and Emily's husband is sort of my husband, and the philandering father is a mix of quite a few people I've worked with, and some of Caroline's less attractive traits are exaggerations of my own past bad behaviour.  But no, there is no-one that is entirely based on someone I know.

Do you have a special place to do your writing?

No.  These days I do all my "work" at my Mac, which is on a shelf in our dining room, but I do my writing using an ipad and wireless keyboard and I take that wherever I fancy, usually following the sun (when we get it) around the house.  When I'm in full flow I write wherever I am, whether it's in the garden, on the bus, waiting for doctor's appointments, that kind of thing.

Which writers have inspired you?

My great love as a teenager was Agatha Christie, for her plot twists, and then I got into massive page-turners like Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper.  But my favourite books are some of the classics - anything beautifully written mainly.  I hugely admire Shakespeare, some of Keats, Thomas Hardy and Salman Rushdie.

And finally for fun:

If you could pick a musical soundtrack to accompany a film version of One Step Too far, what would you choose and why?

Well there is a song by Dido of the same name, but I must confess I've never listened to it.  One of my most memorable musical moments was taking the train from Liverpool to London, looking out the window at the backs of houses and snippets of other people's lives listening to U2's The Unforgettable Fire.  So I think it would be that.

What books are on your bedside table?

The Hunger Games, my notebook and Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Tina, thank you so much for giving such insightful answers to our questions and for taking
 the time  to chat about One Step Too Far 

Jaffa and I wish you continued success in your writing career


Monday 20 May 2013

Review ~ The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

The Shadow Year
20 June 2013

During the long, hot summer of 1980, five university graduates discover an abandoned cottage on the edge of a beautiful lake in the English Peak District. With an eye for adventure, the five friends decide to live in this idyllic setting for a year, eking out their self sufficiency with gifts from the land. The overall dynamic of their friendship works well, but the unexpected arrival of a sixth person begins to disturb this delicate balance, and soon the loyalty and dependability of the group is called into question.

Meanwhile, in present day London, Lila inherits a cottage in a remote part of the Peak District; she has no clue to her benefactor, and as she accepts the offer of sanctuary, the peace and tranquillity of her surroundings give her a way of coping with a devastating personal tragedy. Gradually, as the secrets of the cottage are exposed, Lila is forced to recognise that her own personal loss exposes a lifetime of secrets, which once revealed can never be ignored.

The Shadow Year is an absorbing story of multi-generational deceit which works well on all levels. The author writes with great confidence, her storytelling skill is impeccable, and as she deftly manoeuvres between past and present there is no lull in the narrative, nor does the shadow of the past attempt to outshine the future. However, as the hidden secrets of the cottage are revealed, there is no doubt that the repercussions of what went on before will leave a lasting legacy for the next generation. 


I was really excited to be asked to review this book on behalf of Lovereading Review Panel. 

More early reading reviews of this book can be found on the Lovereading website.

The Shadow Year will be available to purchase from and bookshops from 20 June 2013

More information about the author Hannah Richell 

Saturday 18 May 2013

Blog Tour 2013 ~ Three Kings, One Throne by Michael Wills

I am delighted to be part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of Three Kings ,One Throne by Michael Wills.

 Michael has been kind enough to share his thoughts with us....

Perhaps I should give you a bit of background about me and my writing.

I have been fascinated by history ever since I can remember. As a boy I used to go to jumble sales to see if there were collectable historical items. Much to my mother’s displeasure I built up a museum of items including a real Brown Bess, a WW1 bayonet, a block of wood from the wreck of the Royal George and numerous real or imagined flint arrow heads. But the need to earn a living got in the way and I became an EFL teacher. First I worked in Scandinavia for thirteen years, teaching and writing course books, and then as the Principal of a language school in Salisbury. However, my interest in history did not desert me and I took every opportunity to visit places of historical interest and to read extensively about the past. 

When I retired and saw what I fancied was an extensive stretch of untrammelled spare time ahead of me, I started to research and then write my first novel, Finn’s Fate. The book was inspired by my time in Scandinavia and tells the story of three brothers who abandon a life of drudgery as iron workers for the chance to go a Viking. My second novel, Three Kings – One Throne, relates the tale of two grandsons of one of the brothers. The boys grow up hundreds of miles apart and have very different lives, but as men, they eventually meet. 

And what happens then, is the climax of the story. 

Thank you for hosting me on your blog and for giving me the opportunity to tell your readers about my new novel, Three Kings – One Throne.
SilverWood Book Shop


Three Kings – One Throne by Michael Wills.

The turbulent history which surrounds the invasion of England in the eleventh century was a complicated affair.The crown of England was a prize to be cherished above all prizes and there were good men, and bad, who were prepared to fight to the death to gain control of so rich a treasure. In 1066, on the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson claimed the English crown, but standing by were two other claimants, a Norwegian and a Norman, who were both fully determined to stake their claim. Violence, greed and carnage were never off the agenda as opposing forces clashed and fought their way to victory.

What’s interesting about Three Kings-One Throne is that the story is narrated by two protagonists who are caught on opposing sides; Torkil, an Anglo Saxon thayne is on the side of Godwinson, whilst Ivar, a Danish orphan is part of the Norwegian opposing forces. Both men live with rough justice and violence, and are no stranger to their own brand of complicated deception.

There were occasionally times when the book seemed to flag a little, the task of explaining this particular snapshot of history is momentous, but overall Michael Wills has done an admirable job in bringing together all the intricate historical details and has woven a credible tale of adventure and political skulduggery.

There are helpful footnotes scattered throughout the text which help to put time and place into context, and the epilogue is especially valuable as it references the history of 1065/1066 in lesser detail. If you to want to learn more about this crucial period in English and European history, there is an extensive bibliography with some useful references for further reading.

It’s not crucial reading, as Three King's ,One Throne works well as a standalone story, but it does sort of make sense to read Finn’s Fate by Michael Wills first, as this sets the scene for the continuing story.

My thanks to Michael Wills and Silverwood  Books for my review copy of this book and for the invitation to take part in Three Kings-One Throne 2013 Blog Tour.

It’s been great fun.

Three Kings - One Throne
April 2nd 2013 by SilverWood Books
Finn's Fate
March 29th 2012 by Book Guild Limited

Friday 17 May 2013

Review ~ The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

Friday Recommended Read

Penguin Group Viking
30 May 2013

The Bookman’s Tale opens in 1995, and introduces us to antiquarian book expert Peter Byerly, who has recently relocated from America to the English countryside after the untimely death of his wife, Amanda.  In an antiquarian book shop in Hay-on-Wye, Peter stumbles across a rare book about forgeries; he is bewildered when a watercolour portrait hidden in the book seems to resemble his dead wife. What then follows is the story of how Peter’s search to discover more about the mysterious Victorian watercolour leads him into the bewildering world of William Shakespeare’s lost works.

The mystery at the heart of the story is cunningly manipulated and the twists and turns in the plot are cleverly contrived. However, the real attraction is that this is a book for book lovers, as the description of the conservation and love of books as desirable objects of beauty really comes shining through, and makes you realise the aesthetic value of rare literary masterpieces. The narrative switches effortlessly between three time frames; 1995 and Peter’s search for the truth, 1985 and his courtship and early marriage to his beloved Amanda, and even further back to the Elizabethan world of William Shakespeare.

Beautifully written from start to finish, this is one of those stories that deserves to do really well. I really enjoyed it.

More about Charlie Lovett

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group Viking for my digital copy of this book to review.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Review ~ Toby's Room by Pat Barker

Toby's Room
Penguin (7 Feb 2013)

The story opens in 1912, and in the idyllic setting of the English countryside Elinor and Toby Brooke share a dark secret.Their intense brother and sister relationship is made all the more poignant five years later when Toby is declared missing believed killed in WW1.

Using her contacts at the Slade School of Art, Elinor is determined to find out the truth behind Toby's disappearance. Her search will take her from the battlefields of northern France, to the pioneering work of the surgeons who strive to repair shattered faces in the aftermath of devastating injuries.

Whilst Toby's Room can be read an a standalone story , my view is that it is beneficial to read Life Class first, as the characters do overlap, and the dénouement makes more sense if you have proper knowledge of the characters.

Pat Barker obviously knows and loves this period and writes with such conviction, that the characters live on in your imagination, even after the last page is turned.

Life Class

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Author Spotlight ~ Bee Ridgway

Photo by kind permission of the author

Bee Ridgway
Author of

Published by Michael Joseph
23 May 2013

1812: On a lonely battlefield in Spain, twenty-two year old Lord Nicholas Falcott is about to die . . . run through by a French Dragoon. But, the next moment, he inexplicably jumps forward in time, nearly two hundred years - very much alive. Taken under the wing of a mysterious organisation, The Guild, he receives everything he could ever need under the following conditions: 

He can’t go back. He can’t go home. He must tell no one.

Resigned to his fate, Nicholas rebuilds his life in the twenty-first century, until ten years later, when an exquisite wax sealed envelope brings a summons from The Guild. It seems for a select few the rules can be broken and Nicholas is forced to return to and confront his nineteenth century past . . .

Back in 1815, Julia Percy’s world has fallen apart. Her enigmatic grandfather, the Earl of Darchester, has died and left her with a closely guarded secret, one she is only now discovering - the manipulation of time.

Hiding dark secrets and facing danger from unknown enemies, Julia and Nicholas are drawn to each other, as together they start to realise how little Julia knew about her beloved grandfather and to understand his ominous last words . . .


Bee was born and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a parsonage made from three stuck-together old cottages. She then attended Oberlin College, worked for a year in features at Elle Magazine, and went on to Cornell for a doctoral degree in English literature. After several years spent chasing research materials and true love around the UK, she settled down to teach American literature at Bryn Mawr College. Bee lives with her partner in Philadelphia. The River of No Return is her first novel.

Bee - welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions.

Where did you get the inspiration for The River of No Return? 

I’ve always been fascinated by time travel, and I loved the children’s time travel books I read. THE DARK IS RISING series is incredible, and still haunts my imagination. A WRINKLE IN TIME, of course, and TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN, to name just a few. When I was in graduate school I became addicted to Georgette Heyer, and across the years that I lived in the UK I used to haunt the charity shops (this was before the new rule where they’ll only sell newish books, confound them). I collected fabulous PAN paperbacks of all of her regencies. So time travel and Regency capers go together for me in terms of the kinds of literature I enjoy when I want to just drift away with a great book! But for this particular novel, the idea really just came to me like a bolt from the blue. I was in Vermont, in the house where I imagine Nick waking up from the bad dream in the first chapter of the novel. I was looking out the window on a moonlit winter night, down the hill and across the driveway to a beaver pond that was glowing in the moonlight. And suddenly there the idea for the book was. Or rather, there Nick was. It really was as if he walked in to my house, shook my hand, and said, “Hello, I am a time-traveling aristocrat and I’m in a pickle. I need you to help me figure it out, so if you don’t mind terribly much, let’s get to work!”

Where did your research for the book take you? 

Everywhere. I’m an academic and my field is 19th century literature, so I already had a background in the material I was engaging. But fiction making is a very different beast than scholarship. I found myself looking at endless images of the places I was describing, of the clothing, the hairstyles. I also read through piles of primary documents pertaining to the political kerfuffle that catches up my main character. But the most fun research I did was in working out how to weave in the dozens of fragments of writing from other authors that I worked into my own prose. I wanted the writing itself to have a sense of time travel in it – so I buried citations throughout the book. I don’t want the reader to notice them, but I’d like my reader to have a somewhat uncanny sense of the depth and strangeness of time as she reads. I hoped that weaving these other voices from the past throughout the book might achieve that.

Time slip novels must be tricky to write - how did you control the narrative, or did the narrative ever control you? 

I wrote the novel in three major stages. In the first stage, the time travel was fairly simple. The idea of traveling on streams of emotion was there, but it wasn’t fully developed. Then, once I was working with an agent (the immortal and fabulous Alexandra Machinist), I went in and really turned up the volume on the problem of the Guild, the brotherhood that controls time travel. I had to do quite a bit of development on the idea of how time travel works. Then, when the novel sold and I had editors (one for the US and one for the UK), I cracked the into several pieces and rebuilt it from the inside out. At that point the problem of the future entered the story, and the novel gained the ominous character named Mr. Mibbs. It was then that I had to really map out the idea and make sure that it worked all the way through. In other words, the idea got more and more complicated with every revision. By the end I felt that I had really invented a new fictional world. It was very satisfying. 

What makes you want to write historical fiction? 

My teaching and my research keeps me in the 18th and 19th centuries. For all that I live in the present and lead a very contemporary life (I would never want to live in the past that I study), I feel drawn to the past not in a nostalgic way, but as a sort of looking glass. My novel is historical fiction, but it is also time travel fiction. It is set then . . . and now. My main character, Nick, must negotiate the huge differences between his 21st century self and his 19th century self. The past is a means for him to come to know himself, to make choices about what kind of man he wants to be. And the past should work that way for all of us, I think, even though we can’t actually go there, like Nick can.

And Finally a fun Question – at which event in history would you like to be a fly on the wall and why? 

That’s an incredibly difficult question! There are so many. Obviously if someone said “I can bring you back and show you the Trojan Horse, or Joan of Arc riding into battle, or I can show you the funeral procession for Princess Charlotte,” I would jump at the chance! But I think that rather than events I would want to see places and experience cultures that have been destroyed, or have simply changed beyond recognition. I would like to visit Mexico before the Spanish conquest. The Spanish who first saw it described Tenochtitlan as greater than Rome, greater than any European city they knew or could imagine. In general I would like to see the Americas before the arrival of Europeans.

Listen to Bee talking about The River of No Return

Bee - thank you so much for visiting Jaffareadstoo.

We wish you continued success with your writing career.

I reviewed an ARC of The River of No Return in February 2013

Tuesday 14 May 2013

For Sophie King Fans..

There are now updated editions of Sophie King's books

Photo by kind permission of the author

The School Run,  now contains four extra bonus short stories and ten bonus chapters from two other Sophie King novels; Falling in Love Again (previously published as Divorce for Beginners)
Love is a Secret (previously published as Mums@Home).

The School Run
Corazon Books


Divorce for Beginners,  now has a new cover and the new title of Falling in Love Again, but it is the same great story as before.

Falling in Love Again by Sophie King
Corazon Books


There is a new edition of Sophie's much loved novel Mums@Home. It is a revised and updated edition for 2013, and is now called Love is a Secret.

Love is a Secret by Sophie King
Corazon Books


All are now available on

Happy Reading !

Monday 13 May 2013

Author spotlight ~ Rachel Abbott

I am delighted

 to welcome



Rachel - thank you for visiting Jaffareadstoo and for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions about your book The Back Road.

Where did you get the idea for The Back Road?
It started off as a novel called “The Catalyst” - a story of (mostly) ordinary people with average secrets and insecurities. I wanted to explore what could happen to a small community and group of friends that might result in their lives being blown apart – exposing the weaknesses, the deceptions and the hidden evil lurking behind a mask of normality.

I had all the ideas for the main characters – the people that you and I might very well know and love (or not). All that I had to work out was the catalyst that would be outside of their control, but which would have maximum impact on the stability of their lives.  That was the tricky part.

In the end I came up with the idea of a young girl, knocked over and left for dead at the side of the road in the middle of the night. Why was she out so late, and where are her shoes? The reader knows that the girl was being pursued, but the police and the villagers have no idea what happened, and a web of lies is created as each character strives to protect their own secrets.

What came first the plot, or the people?

It’s difficult to separate the two in a story like The Back Road. I needed to have characters with flaws, but those flaws were intrinsic to the plot. I suppose I thought of the character flaws and then created the personality that would be likely to make the mistakes that I had allocated to them. Only then could I weave those characters and their mistakes into a plot that would work.

Before I started to piece the plot together though I created very detailed character sheets. I have a page for each of them, which includes an image, details such as their date of birth, what they like to drink, their idea of a good night out, etc – everything that makes each of them a complete person in my head. And then I consider their good points and bad points, plus their secrets, present and past. And of course, each of them has to have a defined role within the story – a plot ‘goal’.

How long did it take you to write the story?

The planning takes a long time. I know that some writers produce two or three books a year – but the plotting of my books can take a couple of months alone. Many years ago I was a systems analyst, and I still can’t do anything as complex as write a thriller without some form of flowchart. I need to know when information is released, and how it all ties in with other plot points.

What I want to avoid at all costs is writing one of those books in which the reader gets to the end and the bad guy is revealed, but there hasn't been a single clue to point to him or her throughout the whole story. I need to write my stories so there is enough evidence for people to think they know what’s going on, but never be quite sure.

Once the planning is complete, I start to write. My books are fairly long – 130,000 words or more. But I write very quickly, because by this point the idea is firmly in my head. I set myself a target of 5000 words a day. Given the speed at which I type, that’s not very many and on a good day I can easily beat that. But I would estimate that the first draft will be finished within two months of starting the actual writing.

The editing goes through several phases – from a first critical pass by my agent, which ultimately results in a couple of weeks of rewrites – to two or three passes with an editor.

From first idea to completed book is about eight months, and will stay that way unless I simplify my plots!

If The Back Road was optioned for a TV drama , who would you like to see play the main roles?

I did a poll on Facebook to ask my readers who they thought should play Tom Douglas. I gave them a range of choices, including Daniel Craig (very low vote), Andrew Lincoln, and Rupert Penry-Jones – amongst others. The winner was Rupert by quite a margin. However, it would have to be the Rupert Penry-Jones of Spooks – a real tough guy with a softer side – rather than the OCD character he displays in Whitechapel.

Minnie Driver would make a perfect Ellie – she has the right sort of voluptuous face (although she’d have to put a bit of weight on).

Leo is really hard to cast. Maybe your readers can help? Leo is slim, long dark hair, and appears distant, arrogant and self-assured (she’s none of those things really). A young Kristen Scott-Thomas without the posh voice would possibly work.

Sean is a younger Sean Bean, and Max is a smiley, British version of Ben Affleck.

Do you write stories for yourself, or other people?

I’m not sure that I know the answer to this question! I write because I want to and I love to. But I am delighted when other people read my books and enjoy them.

My stories are always based around relationships, and are more about the ‘why’ of murder than the ‘who, when and where’. When I write, I always hope that people reading my books will get some insight into the characters, and possibly be able to understand people’s human inadequacies better.

When I wrote my first book, Only the Innocent, it sold amazingly well. It was a tale of an abusive relationship, and I got mad when the odd person commented, “no woman would allow herself to be treated in this way”. I wanted to suggest to the reviewer that they go and work for Samaritans for a month or two, and see if they come back with the same idea. Some people walk around with their eyes shut, and never contemplate how others are feeling. I hope my books make people slightly more aware of what might go on beneath the surface, and why sometimes people might do terrible things for what seem to be the right reasons.

Can you tell us what are you writing next?

It’s quite difficult to say without giving too much away. It’s a story about the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want, and the gradual realisation that somebody that they believe they know well is not who they thought they were.

The protagonist in my next story has to go to extreme lengths to secure a safe future for themselves and their family.

I haven’t written the back cover blurb yet – so anything that I say above this might just act as a spoiler!

Finally for fun....

What books are on your beside table?

I’ve just finished Now You See Me by S J Bolton – great book, and the relationship that is brewing between the two protagonists is so well done - sexual tension without any overt references. It’s very clever.

I’ve just started Little Face by Sophie Hannah. I am very intrigued by the story so far, and really can’t wait to see what’s going to happen. It’s one of those books that, if I wasn’t careful, I would just sit and read from end to end because I so want to know what is going on!

 Both books are available on kindle and will be at the amazing price of 99p until the end of May.

It's been a real pleasure to have Rachel in our author spotlight.
Jaffa and I wish you much success with your writing career and can't wait to see what you come up with next.

My Review

This well written and highly addictive psychological thriller opens with a very disturbing scenario, which quickly sets the scene for a dark and sinister story about the evil that lurks in the unexpected.

In the small English village of Little Melham, the main protagonist, Ellie is living with her husband Max and their young children in the idyllic setting of Ellie’s newly converted childhood home. On the surface Ellie has everything she needs, and yet cracks are beginning to appear in her relationships, not just with her husband, but also with her friends. Into the mix comes Leo, Ellie’s damaged half sister, who has her own set of personal demons and whose fear of relationships has made her vulnerable. As a group of friends from the village gather for a dinner party at Ellie’s house, the main topic of conversation is the horror of a recent hit and run accident, which has left a teenager, Abbie, fighting for her life in hospital.

What then follows is a thrilling story of false leads and unexpected twists, as the search for the truth behind Abbie’s accident is gradually revealed, and as neighbour begins to suspect neighbour, the elements of distrust are very often disguised under a blanket of friendliness. The mystery at the heart of the story is cleverly and expertly contrived and the added inclusion of former DCI Tom Douglas from the author’s previous book, Only the Innocent, adds a nice touch of continuity. The pace throughout the book is fast and thrilling and many times throughout the story I thought that I had the perpetrator sussed out, only to be pulled in another direction entirely.

Without doubt Rachel Abbott has written an accomplished and engrossing psychological thriller which I have no hesitation in recommending as a very good read indeed.